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Casa Grande Mountain Park

 

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A community of trail-blazers

By Melissa St. Aude


In Casa Grande, Arizona, volunteers rallied to improve a neglected park and build miles of new multi-use trails.

From the Saguaro and cholla that dot the landscape to the roadrunners and jackrabbits who call it home, a visit to Casa Grande Mountain Park offers a unique opportunity to immerse oneself in the Sonoran Desert experience.

A 40-minute drive east from Phoenix, Ariz., Casa Grande Mountain Park features 1,025 acres of rugged desert terrain with more than 12 miles of newly-built trails.

But although the park has long been popular with local hikers, cyclists, bird watchers, joggers, and equestrians, for decades, the neglected mountain featured only a few aging single-track trails. Those who loved the mountain knew it could be more. And now, thanks to years of work by the city of Casa Grande and an army of citizen volunteers, the mountain has been reborn and boasts a new and improved trail system perfect for those itching for an up-close look at the desert’s diverse wildlife and vegetation.

photo of cactus and desert mountains

On the Trail at Casa Grande Mountain Park

“I hope all of our efforts make it easier for visitors to utilize trails,” said William Schwind, Casa Grande Community Services Director.

Recognizable by the letters “CG” painted onto the mountainside, Casa Grande Mountain has long-been a focal point of the Casa Grande community.

Within the park towering Saguaro cactuses – native to the Sonoran Desert – thrive in the sun-drenched soil along with other lesser-known but equally beautiful cactus including cholla, prickly pear and barrel cactus. During the spring, the desert landscape bursts with color as Mexican gold poppy, lupine and other desert wildflowers and cactuses bloom.

On any given day, a hiker might spot a roadrunner darting across the path or a broad-billed hummingbird might flutter nearby. Red-tail hawks often soar in the sky above, scouting the park for their next meal, while rabbits and desert rats scurry along the rocky terrain below.

While the city of Casa Grande owns more than 1,000 acres of the mountain, adjoining properties on the mountain are owned by other entities including neighboring municipalities, federal agencies and private owners.

But although the park for decades was popular with a small group of hikers, equestrians and cyclists, those who loved the mountain hoped to develop a system of trails that highlighted the mountain’s beauty and opened up the park to a variety of users, including people seeking anything from a rigorous hike to a leisurely nature walk.

Photo of people working on desert trail

Volunteers at work on the trail system

Residents and mountain users banded together and in 2003 began urging city leaders to expand the trail system at the mountain and close or repair some older, poorly constructed trails. They envisioned a trail system that would transform the park into a regional attraction, attract more outdoor enthusiasts and ensure that that the mountain would be protected and preserved for future generations.

A steering committee of concerned residents was formed and in 2004, Casa Grande city officials obtained a technical assistance grant to develop a master plan for the park and before long, a plan for developing new trails at the park began to take shape.

“This process took several years,” former Community Services Director Mary Johnson told the Casa Grande Dispatch newspaper in 2011. “Because we were dealing with multiple land ownership issues that affected the project’s planning area, plus we had an extensive public process, and at one point in time, two trails planning processes were running simultaneously; the Casa Grande Mountain Park Trails System Master Plan and the Regional Trails System Master Plan.”

When a 2007 survey of Casa Grande residents found that people wanted and supported additional walking, hiking and biking trails at the mountain, plans began to heat-up. The steering committee and city staffers began working with trail design experts Southwest Trail Solutions to lay out a variety of pathways, including those with long or short loop trails, easy to challenging experiences, short and long range views, and of course, spectacular views of the city and of the desert.

In 2010, the mountain park system plan was approved by the state and soon after, the city added to the park’s acreage by leasing about 80 acres of adjoining land from the Bureau of Land Management. The lease allowed the city to add trails to the northernmost portions of the park.

photo of young people with tools

AmeriCorps teams provided additional trail-building assistance

When the time came to begin actual work on the trails at the park, the city turned to the community for help. Guided by Outdoor Arizona, who helped train the steering committee and city staffers on how to manage volunteer, in April 2010, trail planners began hosting monthly community trail work days. The Casa Grande community responded enthusiastically and by early 2011, trail-building work days were attracting hundreds of volunteers to each event.

“In any project it is important for community involvement, buy-in and support,” Schwind said. “When people get motivated and do things they truly enjoy, things get done.”

Over a two-year process, more than 1,353 volunteers contributed more than 8,164 hours on the project. New trails were built, transforming some of the desert terrain into maneuverable, safe hiking paths.

Many community groups, civic organizations, churches and businesses supplied volunteers to the cause, including the Casa Grande City Council, Casa Grande Mountain Steering Committee, Casa Grande Parks and Recreation Advisory Board, Round Trip Bike Shop, Southwest Gas, Casa Grande Union High School’s cross country team and JROTC students, Palm Creek Golf and RV Resort Hiking Club, Robson Ranch Hiking Club, Sunscape RV Resort Hikers, Civil Air Patrol Squadron 316, Pinal County Juvenile Court Services, Casa Grande Fire Department, Sonoran Desert Mountain Bicyclists, Casa Grande Border Patrol Explorers Post 285, Vista Grande High School JROTC, Mountain Bike Association of Arizona and the Church of Jesus Christ of latter Day Saints.

“The synergy that was created from our community trail builds and individual groups and sponsors embracing this project has resulted in other critical pieces of the puzzle slowly but surely fitting together,” Johnson told the Casa Grande Dispatch.

Additional help came when the city of Casa Grande applied for and received four 10-member National Civilian Conservation Corps AmeriCorps teams. Each team worked full time on the trails for two months each, and together, they created 10 miles of new trails and stabilized some existing trails. Their work is credited with accelerating development of the trail system, enabling the city to open the park to the community years earlier than expected.

“People who live and work in the trails industry will tell you that trail development oftentimes takes years and years of patience and perseverance,” Johnson told the Casa Grande Dispatch newspaper soon after the trail system opened in 2011. “Throughout this process, developing trails on CG Mountain was like putting together a jigsaw puzzle with numerous moving parts.”

While the trail system is now open, more work is planned to enhance the park.

“There are several miles of trail yet to be created, renovated and improved,” Schwind said.

There are hopes to eventually create two new trailheads and add more signs to enhance the experience for trail users. The city is also working on a rating system, which, when finished will inform users of the difficulty level of each trail.

At its highest point, Casa Grande Mountain is 2,350 feet and offers an unsurpassed view of surrounding farm fields and parts of Casa Grande – a city of about 48,000 residents. Located between Phoenix and Tucson, Casa Grande is in what is referred to as Arizona’s “Golden Corridor.” Two major intersections, I-8 and I-10 intersect in Casa Grande, near Casa Grande Mountain Park.

There are two major access points to Casa Grande Mountain Park: Peart Trailhead, at 1086 Peart Road and the Arica Trailhead, 2090 E. Arica Road.

Each trailhead provides a different trail experience and different views as well as varying levels of difficulty.

The Peart Trailhead is the closest to the city of Casa Grande and is the larger of the two trailheads – about two acres. A half-mile nature loop is located near the trailhead. Considered an easy trail with some moderate inclines, the nature trail is popular with birdwatchers, families with small children and others seeking a less-challenging outdoor experience.

At nearly five miles in length, the Ridge Trail is the longest on the mountain and is considered moderate to difficult. The trail begins at the Peart Trailhead and travels south. Along the Ridge Trail are some of the park’s most interesting city views, rock formations and desert scenery.

The Arica Trailhead offers more stacked loop or easy, moderate and difficult trails and some of the park’s best views with great vantage points for viewing the city, farmlands and highways as well as panoramic views of the Sawtooth Mountains and Picacho Peak.

The park and trail system reopened in November, 2011 with a celebration attended by hundreds of residents and city officials. The trails are busiest during the fall, winter and early spring months, but some hikers, continue to visit the park in the warm summer month. Trail advocates recommend that those visiting the trails in the summer bring plenty of water, wear sunscreen and plan hikes to coincide with the early morning or early evening hours.

What to know before you go

How to get there:
• There are two trailheads, one located at 1086 S. Peart Road and another at 2090 E. Arica Road.
• To reach the Arica Road trailhead, from Phoenix, take I-10 east to Exit 200, Sunland Gin Road. Turn right (south) on Sunland Gin Road then continue south. Turn right (west) on Arica Road. Continue west on Arica Road until pavement ends near the base of Casa Grande Mountain.
• To reach the Peart Road trailhead, from Phoenix, take I-10 East to Exit 198 , Jimmie Kerr Blvd. Turn right (west) on Jimmie Kerr Blvd then continue west to Peart Road. Turn left (south) on Peart Road. Continue south on Peart Road, traveling beneath the I-8 overpass. The road curves. Travel south to base of mountain then turn left (east) on unpaved road to trailhead.

Also know:

• the park is open from dawn until dusk.
• Visitors should bring water and sunscreen – the sun can be hot in the Sonoran Desert, even in the winter months.
• The park is for non-motorized use and hikers, joggers, cyclists and equestrian users all share the same trails. Trail etiquette dictates that all trail users yield to equestrian users. Hikers yield to equestrian users. Joggers yield to hikers and equestrians. Cyclists yield to all other trail users.
• There are no public utilities at the park.
• It is recommended that hikers visiting the park carry a cell phone in case of emergency.
• Informational kiosks are posted at each trailhead. Directional signs are also posted. As the park borders private and government property, trail users are urged to remain on the posted trails and refrain from entering private property without permission.
• Pets must remain on a leash at all times. Waste must be removed. Visitors to the park are asked to leave only footprints.
* For a complete listing of park rules and trail maps are available by on the park website, http://www.casagrandeaz.gov/web/casa-grande-mountain-trails

What you might see:

• Birds that live in the park include hummingbirds, cactus wren (the state bird of Arizona), roadrunner, hawks, mourning doves and several other species.
• Rabbits are easy to spot along with desert rats. Coyote and javalina call the park home but are rarely seen. Several snake species are native to the desert mountain, but encounters between park users and snakes are uncommon. Of course, other desert wildlife including scorpions, spiders and a variety of lizards live happily within the park.
• Desert vegetation including several varieties of native cactus thrive in the park. Saguaro, cholla, prickly pear and barrel cactuses are abundant.

 

For more information

Learn more about Casa Grande Mountain Park and other City of Casa Grande parks and trails at http://www.casagrandeaz.gov/web/guest/parks

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